Hero Image

Fire-smart Landscaping Tips

Feeling overwhelmed and need a place to start?  Check out our monthly tips that offer you actionable, affordable ways to reduce fuel on your property.


Fire-smart Awareness Tip of the Month

Our fire-smart landscaping tips appear every month in the Marin Independent Journal as a reminder to homeowners to plan and maintain their homes and landscapes with awareness of the threat of wildfires. Read on for this month's fire-smart tip!


JANUARY: Time to Prune!

Richard Ackley
Richard Ackley

Reduce fuel load by pruning. Winter is a good time, especially for dormant or deciduous trees and shrubs.

•Prune after the leaves drop and before the buds form.
• Remember the 3 D’s: dead, damaged and diseased parts should be removed.
• Prune dead and twiggy overgrown shrubs like lavender
• Remove tree branches at least 6 feet from the ground or up to one-third of their height
• Remove any limbs 10 feet from the chimney or roof and maintain separation between trees or groups of trees
• Avoid topping trees and shearing hedges as this causes weak and twiggy growth and more fuel for a fire.
• Make your garden fire-smart by removing dead material and maintaining separation between your plants. 


FEBRUARY: Right Tree, Right Place, Please


A fire-smart landscape can have many types of trees. Remember the design of defensible spaces in your garden. Plan ahead. Space trees so that at maturity the canopies will have 10 feet of clearance from the roof and chimney.  

• Trees shade, cool, clean the air, sequester carbon, and support wildlife for an earth-friendly garden.
• Trees offer privacy, edible fruit, noise reduction, colorful flowers and seasonal foliage.
• Select a tree adapted to your climate zone and your garden conditions.
• Consider maintenance. Evergreen trees produce fallen leaves and debris year round. Deciduous or fruiting trees drop leaves or fruit annually.
• Thin trees so that the branches between trees or groupings of trees do not touch and have at least 10 feet of separation between groups of trees.


JULY: Mindfully Mulch


The best way to maintain consistent soil moisture, eliminate weeds and keep your plants healthy is by covering the bare spots in your garden with wood mulch. However, did you know that most mulch is flammable? With fire season upon us, here are some quick tips on mulching in a fire-smart garden:

• In the five-foot area surrounding your home, use only non-combustible mulch. Stone, rock and gravel work great!
• From 5 feet to 30 feet out from your home use only composted wood chips. Limit the mulch depth to only two inches.  Consider separating wood chip areas with non-flammable materials such as decomposed granite, gravel and rocks.
• Beyond 30 feet from your home you can use larger, composted wood chips up to a depth of 3 inches.
• Do not use fine, stringy mulches. They burn faster than larger chunks.


AUGUST:  Water Wise and Fire-smart

Marie Narlock
Marie Narlock

Water is a precious resource in our drought prone climate. So, water wisely and make your garden fire-smart. Here’s what you can do:

• Keep your garden free of dry grasses and dead plants.
• Look at your plants to see if they are thriving. Test the soil moisture. Maintain your irrigation system so each plant gets the right amount of water.
• Add mulch to retain water. Make sure to use the right type of mulch. Non-combustible mulch includes rock and gravel.
• California Natives are a good choice for plants that use less water. Irrigate deeply and infrequently the first 1-2 years.
• Don’t over water on Red Flag Days. This depletes the water our fire departments need.

The UC Marin Master Gardeners’ Garden Walks program helps homeowners conserve water. If you would like to have two Master Gardeners visit your garden, please set up an appointment either by calling 415.473.4204 or making a request online.


SEPTEMBER: Maintaining a Fire-smart Landscape

Alice Cason
Alice Cason

Fall is a great time to do fire-smart maintenance.

• Check the gutters, roof, eaves, vents, and chimney for leaf and needle litter.
• Remember to clear branches 10 feet from the roof.
• Apply mulch to help control weeds that will spring up when the rainy season begins. Mulch can also control soil erosion, prevent soil compaction, and enhance the appearance of your garden.
• Consider separating wood chips areas with non-flammable materials such as granite, gravel, and rocks.
• Rake-up and compost or remove fallen leaves and evergreen needles. The spots where leaves collect are where embers can ignite a fire.
• Remove dead vegetation and dry grasses.
• Prune or remove plants to eliminate fuel ladders.
• Prune to separate shrubs and tree canopies.
• Prune dead wood from trees and shrubs.



OCTOBER:  Right Plant, Right Place


UC Marin Master Gardeners always say to plant the “right plant in the right place” as a formula for success. In a fire-smart landscape there are no fire-resistant plants, since all plants can burn. Plants should be water wise and ecologically sound, well-maintained and in good health. Add proper irrigation and maintenance and keep them free of dead material and fallen leaves.

• For easy maintenance and water savings a good choice are California natives.
• Choose pollinator-friendly, summer dry and winter wet plants for our Marin Mediterranean climate.
• Create a mosaic, a patchwork of plants within the garden.
• Ensure the separation of shrubby bushes, perennials and groundcovers using the right mulch, rock or pavers.
• Ensure fire-smart spacing of shrubby bushes by regularly pruning

A fire-smart landscape can preserve habitat, provide pollinator corridors and enhance your home.


NOVEMBER: Plant Spacing in the Defensible Landscape

FIRESafe Marin

Space trees and shrubs in your garden to minimize the transmission of fire from one plant to another and ultimately your house.

• Space trees so that at maturity their crowns are 10 – 15 feet apart or more, and avoid planting trees in rows or hedges.
• Remove tree branches 6 feet from the ground. If a plant is under a tree, allow extra space. Spacing on slopes increase as grade of slope increases.
• Avoid massing shrubs at the base of trees or adjacent to structures, especially under eaves, overhangs, windows or decks.
• With proper plant spacing your landscape can be fire-smart, healthy, organized and beautiful.


DECEMBER:  Plan Your Fire-smart Landscape

These zones make up the 100' of defensible space required by law. FIRESafe Marin
These zones make up the 100' of defensible space required by law. FIRESafe Marin

Make a plan. Consider the existing plants, budget, and how much maintenance you are willing to do. Start by understanding the defensible space zones.

Zone 0: 0 – 5 feet from the house is the most important. Minimize combustible materials and vegetation and separate plants with non-combustible materials.
Zone 1: 5- 30 feet from the house separate plantings and garden beds with hardscape and groundcovers to slow the spread of flames.
Zone 2: 30 to 100 feet from the house can use larger shrubs and trees planted in widely spaced groups or “islands.” Consider the mature size of plants and shrubs to maintain spaces.